*Special thanks to Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules, who took most pictures from this post unless otherwise specified.
Remember summer camp? Whistling with ten crackers in your mouth after swimming the length of the lake? Getting asked to the end-of-week dance by Petey Goldwyn (heir to the MGM crown) and turning him down because Gary Warsaw was way cuter? Ok, so maybe you didn’t go to summer camp with the spawn of Hollywood royalty, and frankly I’m not sure why I did either, but you remember the experience, right?
At the beginning there was an impending sense of dread. What if they don’t like me? What if I wet my pants on the top bunk and it dribbles down into Shiela B’s perfectly-plaited hair? But by the end, you’d sooner streak naked through the mess hall than abscond to the eager arms of your ‘rents.
That’s what the long weekend I spent in Oregon hosted by Travel Oregon and managed by Maxwell PR was like. Before I went, I didn’t love Oregon. I lived in Portland for a year just out of high school and found very little to do there besides get into the kind of trouble that involved copious bong hits and regular rave attendance (along with the accoutrements of that lifestyle). The tragicomic denouement was a weeklong sojourn in my car because I was too embarrassed to call home and admit I’d been kicked out of my apartment. When I left Portland I commemorated it by shaving my head to the quick and leaving the pile of blond half-dreadlocks behind in favor of a new zen lifestyle.
So it was with great trepidation that I returned to the heart of my late-adolescent angst. I needn’t have worried. I took a train to Portland, which was delayed because a drunken man took up residence on an underpass above the tracks and refused to come down from his six inch perch. When we finally got the all-clear to pass, our train was well-behind schedule, thus depositing me late into the throes of the welcome reception.
Like a rabid murder of hungry crows, the bloggers, pr peeps, and journalists descended on me and I peered at them with wild eyes. In their clutches they held… WINE! The rabidness I perceived was actually a propensity for hugs. The perceptible swoosh of a thousand shutters clicked merrily away capturing every moment on every camera imaginable from the humble iPhone to the no-nonsense Nikon D3X. Clinks rang from the union of wine glasses bouncing balloon-to-balloon: a staccato symphony. We were fast friends in a matter of minutes whether we’d met, read one another, or even heard of one another prior to being thrust together like a thirsty herd of dromedaries with humps in need of fillin’.
On that note, whoever was in charge of curating this talented posse deserves a giant pat on the behind with a little finger-crack action thrown in for fun. There was no drama. You know how if you get a group of bitches who think they’re good at shit together they usually preen and fawn and snub and sashay and you’re shat out on the ass-end wondering if they were actually people beneath all that spray tan and posturing or if in fact evil zombies named Prissy inhabited their bodies and forced them to act like air-nosed idiots?
Well there was zero of that on this trip. And there were some seriously talented bitches in the brood. I met Bea and Helene on this trip, and it turns out I could probably trade their autographs for a small island. Same with everyone else. And yet not a Monsanto seed in the packet. Nope, all organic, non-GMO, pesticide-free seeds in this bunch.
After the wine reception we were whisked off in various groups to various swanky restaurants around the city. I went to Little Bird where I was able to share an oyster moment with my partner-in-crime Nicole and have scintillating conversation with Debra, Susan, Linea and Rika. We ate pigeon, among other things, and we drank like Bacchus’ babes. It was very nice of the manager of Little Bird to send us home with foil-wrapped to-go packages, upon which she had written the given names of the contents.
By “names” I mean “Tart Tatin Tammy” and “Pigeon Polly”. The Portlandia stereotype is accurate- the stuff on your dinner plates will have a pedigree. Portlanders take provenance seriously, but they do so with tongue planted firmly in cheek. After all, if we put it in our mouths, it can’t be that serious, right?
(Aside- sweet, manager of Little Bird, I’m sorry I pinched your luscious bottom while you were waiting on that other table- I could’t help it. I hope you can forgive my transgression- it was committed with the purest of impure intentions and you were a pretty girl.)
The next morning I found myself wedged in the backseat of a Prius taxi (it’s Portland!) with Nicole and Janelle. We headed to a tiny plane, which would fly us to the Rogue River near Grant’s Pass Oregon. The plan was to float the river with the team from Rogue Wilderness Adventures.
Andrew took a picture of us from the front seat of the cab, which we’ve affectionately titled “Big Face, Mean Face, and Sexy Hair”. Since Andrew wouldn’t give Arnold Schwartznegger our Austrian taxi driver a kiss, he drove interminably slow to the airstrip that would catapult us to our fate. So slow that he got honked at and passed by a Subaru. That is not an easy feat. After what seemed like hours of listening to Arnie talk about the sexual escapades that had happened on the very seats we were sitting, he finally planted the Prius on the airstrip. I had nabbed a spiral pastry at breakfast that morning, but since I rarely eat before I consume liquor, I placed it on my knee for the duration of the taxi ride. I kept it on my knee once we boarded the plane, too. As it begun to unravel, it resembled one of Princess Leia’s buns. I took that opportunity to explain to the crew that I was a Jedi. I think right then and there they realized what kind of party this was gonna be. I tried to be quiet, I really did, but you just can’t tame a flame dame.
I got to ride in the cockpit with Pilot Chris. He let me take the controls, but the truth is, George is really the one who flies the plane. George is what Chris calls the autopilot. I wonder how creative Chris gets when he names certain other familiar parts? Half the time I felt like I was in Top Gun, and the other half I felt something on my thigh that I was pretty sure was urine.
I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t that scared though, because the wetness on my thigh was just my trusty friend “Pansy the Pastry”. See- I can do this Portlandia thing too. Thus far on the trip I had only heard the term Farm-to-Table 11 times. If you multiply that number by itself then add it to the nth power and turn it into an infinite exponential integer, that’s how many times I heard it by the end. There are even variations, such as bean-to-bar, which refers to roasting your own cocoa beans before turning them into fancy chocolate confections fit for high midget priestesses.
Andrew took over in the cockpit and I decided the gang in the backseats needed to celebrate the fact that I had not crashed the plane, so I busted out a flask of Root Liquor and asked them if they wanted a swig. It was 9am. They all had one as the plane descended. I had found my people.
We all thought the plane was going to be the most exciting mode of transport we’d ride on that day, but boy were we wrong. It turns out we got to tour a wild animal rehabilitation center called Wildlife Images and in order to get there we boarded a bus with BEARS on it. Big Styrofoam-shellacked bears that looked as though they’d commandeered the bus. All of our handlers were very nice, and one handler who was from Southern Oregon asked where we were staying. We told her Hotel Deluxe, which, by the way, is very luxurious and makes you feel like a total movie star, especially because at midnight they will let you pose sprawled across the entire reception desk if you want.
She told us there was a quaint little natural foods’ store near the hotel and we should be sure to visit. We asked which store and she said it was called Whole Foods. She said it with such plucky enthusiasm that none of us dared to laugh. We probably should have told her that Whole Foods is a national chain, unfortunately we did not, and so it became a badly-kept private joke for the rest of the trip.
After we disembarked the bear bus, we found ourselves in the belly of the beast at Wildlife Images. They brought in a local chef to cook us breakfast, but I think we all felt terrible eating crab cakes in front of the extremely hungry looking badger and wolf they trotted out to meet us. I didn’t feel bad eating in front of the bald eagle, though, because he looked like he wanted a taste of human.
Two things happened at the nature preserve or on the way there that further cemented the madcap tone of our trip. The first was that our fearless leader Kevin from Travel Oregon wasn’t smiling enough in a picture so Andrew told him to smile harder. We’d been in search of a team name, and smile harder proved to be an excellent fit. When we explained this to someone at the nature preserve, she said she liked made-up things because she used to teach summer camp. One summer she made up the word docious and by the end of the summer all the kids were using it. Since we were basically a hard-smiling herd of lemmings at camp, we decided to adopt the use of the word docious too. As in, “like dude, that is so totally docious that you decided to fork your penis”.
After the brush with wilderness, Team #Smileharder was ready to tackle the ferocious river with all vigor of a teenage boy locked in a closet with a stack of pornos. This was not my first rafting rodeo, consequently I knew to arm myself. I claimed the biggest, baddest water gun you ever did see the second the guides revealed the stash.
My team was not so prepared, and they faced my wrath the entire day. This may explain why I found myself tossed out of the boat more times than I care to recall, but the joke is on them because my teammates don’t know how much I truly love swallowing river water in hopes of contracting giardia.
A few rapids into the day, I discovered that the river was quite mellow. In order to spice things up, I decided to dive from one raft to the other. This turned out not to be such a great idea, as you can see, but in my defense, back in my day rafts were made of rubber, not titanium, and they didn’t so much grab you as absorb you into their airy arms.
Shortly after my arm swelled to the point that I could no longer pretend I was tough and had done it on purpose (which I HAD) we landed for lunch. We were pleasantly surprised to see Pilot Chris waiting for us. The food spread Rogue Wilderness Adventures put together was nothing short of fuckable, but I knew who to make friends with. I headed straight for Sandi of Rosellas Vineyard because she had the salve for my ailments. If you know me at all by now, you surely know I mean WINE when I say salve, but sometimes I use euphemisms so I feel like less of an alky.
Sandi had a light hand at first, but soon she learned how I like to mainline my wine. Rosellas makes serious wine. I fully expected it to be like the marijuana I grew up with versus the marijuana they have nowadays. You know, small-town dirtweed, this should be small-town dirtwine, right? Dead wrong. Rosellas produces dessert wine in the style of amontillado! I don’t use exclamation marks very often, but that deserves one. And you know what they don’t eff around with? Pinot noir. Pinot noir picked on me when I was little, so we’re not friends. If you, like me, would sooner drink a full-bodied cab, steer clear of the Willamette Valley. Southern Oregon, on the other hand, has hills and microclimates suitable for growing various grapes, and Rosellas takes full advantage with their merlot, cabernet and more.
So as not to appear utterly oeno-addicted, I moseyed over to the beer station set up by Caldera Brewing. Turns out Caldera does a fine job holding their head above hops in the craft beer movement, and they’re doing it in cans. This makes it much more practical for outdoor activities, and some would say it’s more environmentally-sensitive.
We convinced Pilot Chris to float the latter half with us. He had no gear and he was wearing one of those hoity toity pilot suits, but he gamely rolled-up his pants and sleeves and took the plunge. We soldiered on down the river with coolers packed full of wine and beer. You can bet this made cliff-jumping all the more exciting. Did you like that? How I casually inserted the word cliff-jumping in there? Yeah, we went cliff-jumping. Or some of us did. Others of us stayed earthbound; ostensibly to divest those of us who fell to our deaths of our jewelry should we not survive the 30’ drop. Luckily we all made it. And some of us did it twice. By some of us I mean me. Wimps.
Because cliff-jumping put us a touch behind schedule, RWA whisked us off the river and back to the plane in record time. We flew back to Portland with the biggest #smileharder grins on our faces and primped for a rooftop rendezvous in the Pearl District. The only thing I have bad to say about Portland’s posh Pearl District is- sheesh people, it’s brand new! Why not call it the Platinum District, or at the very least the Black Pearl District. Aren’t you worried a bunch of old ladies will walk through befuddled because they prefer High Tea to hip hop?
But other than that, the Pearl District is as fun as doing a fat girl on a motorbike with a blindfold on. And that’s fun. Friday night’s dinner was the first time the entire group of bloggers got together, and we did so over burgers by Metrovino, The Gilt Club, and Prodigal Son. I wish I could speak to the subtle nuances of each burger, but the truth is they were all floor-lickers on the scale of would you lick it off the floor to wouldn’t even wish it upon your nemesis.
Later that night, stylish Sean, Andrew and I met for a pinkie-out cocktail in the Driftwood, which is the name of the Hotel Deluxe bar. The only available table was next to three questionably-legal sorority types who were giggling away over a bottle of champagne and a Teen Beat Magazine. Moments later, a man walked in who appeared to be their grandfather. We all braced ourselves for the inevitable tongue lashing he would surely give them for sneaking out of the hotel room to go drinking. Instead, he lowered his wobbly self down into a chair at their table and began to gesticulate like Joan Rivers on ketamine.
We tried to ignore them, but the disheveled man knocked a glass of champagne onto our laps. Our waiter was so obsequious to Mr. Drunky that our champagne thighs went unnoticed until their entire party rather abruptly arose and stumbled out of the bar. Straightaway, our waiter ran at us with his hands flapping like a little girl in the presence of a pony.
”Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god-do you know who that was?”
We shook our heads.
“It was Steeeeve Jones!” He squealed at us like a pig in heat. Still lost, he took pity on us because he wanted us to share in his contagious joy.
“From the Sex Pistols!!!!!” This time the squeal broke the sound barrier.
Turns out Steve Jones DID intend to give the girls a tongue lashing, just of another sort. I pictured what happened after they scampered up to Jones’ suite, but it quickly devolved into a scene I needed to lye my eyes out for imagining. Kids these days. And by kids I mean dirty old men.
On Day Three of the #fullonOR adventure, I got to hang with some special people I hadn’t had a chance to see very much on the trip. First, Georgia and I learned the finer points of chocolate tempering from David of Xoxocatl Chocolates. David was a personal trainer before he was a chef and chocolatier, and I think his chocolates taste so good because he beats coaches them into shape the way he used to with his fitness clients.
Then Georgia and I got the opportunity to open a bottle of yeasted Argyle Champagne in front of the entire #fullonOR group. We used a device that Rollin Soles, Argyle’s winemaker, likened to his own “tool” for its smallish yet functional form. I am pretty sure Rollin had some prior knowledge of our zaniness, as we delivered a nice show for the crew, squarely defeating Richard, the lone male selected to hold his own in the champagne-popping gender war. Andrew, gorgeous Gwen, and many others, documented our victory.
We ate lunch at KitchenCru, which is a shared use community kitchen and dining/workspace in Portland that anyone can rent 24 hours a day. It’s such a novel concept. I see it taking off globally to serve caterers, party hosts, cooking instructors and more.
Jenn Louis, Chris Israel and Scott Dolich, all chefs of their own joints, each contributed to the meal at KitchenCru. Rollin from Argyle kept my glass full of champagne, and Hilda and Hannah from Abacela acted as double-fisting enablers because they poured a tempranillo that I couldn’t put down.
After lunch I got to hang with Gaby for practically the first time of the weekend. This is sad because she is one of my very favorite balls of spitfire energy and sass, but it’s great because at least we were meeting up for a #COCKTAILPARTY. Yes, a few of us went to the Rum Club where three of Oregon’s finest mixmasters schooled us in the arts of cocktail sorcery. I had been waiting ALL WEEKEND to play MOLOTOV COCKTAIL PARTY during this very breakout, and when I did, our gang couldn’t help but shake their groove thangs. We even did so behind the bar. Oregon is way ahead of the rest of the country in terms of the craft cocktail movement. In fact they’re way ahead with so many things that I wouldn’t be surprised if they secede and form UberOregon, where everything is a utopia of rafting trips, idyllic air travel, bountiful booze and forego-the-fellatio food.
#FullonOr culminated in a scene straight out of Anne of Green Gables at the Penner Ash Winery. The view was arresting. The friendships we’d forged and strengthened over the weekend further solidified in the waning sunlight. Georgia and I soaked in the magic of three days by lying on the lawn making grass angels.
I shared a quiet moment with Paula, who I didn’t see nearly enough despite the fact that we’re united by a small sisterhood of three Food Ninjas. Helene captured everything with her hip-slung camera like a modern-day Calamity Jane. We ate some more. There was a lot of laughter and a few tears.
Just like with summer camp, I knew the next morning would come and I’d have to go through the looking glass back to the real world. And so I clung. Onto words. Onto arms. Onto every last bite of food and wine they placed before me. And I clung onto my newfound notion that in Oregon, they really are living the dream. Except that they can’t pump their own gas.
*Travel Oregon ponied up cashola to send me on this trip, but they didn’t dole out dough for this post, nor did they ask me to write or say a damn thing. If you can’t tell this effusive praise comes straight from my butter-addled heart and wine-drenched liver, you maybe haven’t realized that I have no filter and therefore say exactly what’s on my dirty mind.